Wedge out to improve on success of '07
Skipper looking to keep team focused on winning AL Central
In the Wedge household, the birth of a new season took on quite a literal meaning this year.Indians manager Eric Wedge and his wife, Kate, welcomed into the world a son, Dalton Cash, to join 23-month-old daughter Ava, shortly after players reported to camp at the Chain of Lakes complex in Winter Haven, Fla. It should come as no surprise that Wedge would give his son a middle name that is an homage to Johnny Cash, one of his heroes. And it can only be assumed that the name Cash was chosen over tributes to the likes of John Wayne or Bobby Knight. Given those influences, it is clear to see where Wedge gets his no-nonsense managerial style. And that style was instrumental in the Indians' path to an American League Central Division title and a Division Series victory over the Yankees in 2007. With an '08 season of high expectations just more than two weeks away, MLB.com sat down with the reigning AL Manager of the Year to discuss his expanding family and the challenges ahead. First of all, on the personal side of things, what's new with Cash Wedge? He's doing great. Kate, Ava and Cash came down here exactly two weeks after he was born. So it's been great to have them down here. I was up in Cleveland for about 24 hours when he was born, so the first time we were actually together as a family was when they came down here. So that's been nice. I told you before, when Ava was born, it's life-changing. It's been great, and Kate's been great. I love having them with me. It's the nature of the game that you're often pulled away from your family, and, like you said, you had to leave Cleveland shortly after Cash was born. That's got to be difficult. I just look at it like I was fortunate to be there when he was born. I was happy to see all that and fortunate to get them down here. As long as he's healthy and they're healthy, there's nothing more important than that. It's amazing how that occupies your mind to the fullest extent, especially that week before he was born. All you're thinking about is Kate being OK and Cash being OK. Now that he's out, we'll just try to take care of him. By calling him Cash, you do know you're setting that kid up to be a ballplayer, right? Cash Wedge would be a great ballplayer's name.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
(Laughs) You know, we knew we were going to give him a middle name of Cash, and we settled on Dalton for the first name. It's a name I like and Kate likes. We're still not 100 percent sure that we're going to call him Cash, but it seems like that's what we end up doing. Every now and then, I'll call him Dalton, or I'll find myself saying Dalton Cash a lot. But ultimately, I think we keep coming back to Cash.Well, obviously, parenting is a challenge. But switching gears to the season ahead, what's your greatest challenge as a manager, coming off the success of last year? I just think it's making sure everybody understands our entire focus, 100 percent, needs to be on the regular season and the Central Division. I think that we can allow ourselves to feel good about last year, even though ultimately we didn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. But we've got to make sure we pull ourselves in and make sure everything we're doing is to prepare for the regular season. We'll continue to slow it down and take it day by day, keep our mind in the moment, and focus on what's right in front of us. I think that's the consistency that we have to have mentally. I think when a team gets as far as you guys got, that can really change its mentality and raise expectations. Have you sensed that, or have the players been receptive to that idea of toning things down? They have. I think it changes everybody else's expectations, which is part of it. That's part of being successful. That's where we have to pull ourselves back as a family, as a group, as a team, to focus on what we need to focus on. There isn't anything beyond the regular season, unless we take care of business in the regular season. What's your final analysis of last year? You made it further than a lot of people expected, but you ultimately had the disappointment of losing Game 7 of the ALCS. I was really proud of the way they handled themselves in the regular season and really proud of the way they handled themselves in the postseason. We came up a little bit short, but it doesn't take away from what they accomplished. I'm most proud of the way these guys play the game and the way they respect the game. That means more to me than anything. We don't get caught up in results. We focus on the process of what we need to do today -- the work, the preparation and the routines that they have to keep themselves in, and then we let the results take care of themselves. Can you learn as much from success as you do from failure?
Oh yeah. Every day I've learned something. I think we learn something every day, as a ballclub. I work off of these guys. It's not the other way around. I evolve from them and with them. But you should learn as much with success as you do when you go through the tough times.You really seemed to loosen the reins on these guys last year. You let them take on more leadership roles and kind of backed off in certain areas. Was that by design? Yeah, to a certain extent. That started at the end of '06, and I look back to where we were 19 games under .500 that year, and we ended up only six games under .500. By no means was that where we wanted to be, but when you've got two months left, you see a lot of guys pack it in. Our guys didn't do that. They played their best baseball the last couple months of the season, knowing they ultimately weren't going to end up where they wanted to end up. But you go out there because you still respect the game and want to get better every day, and you play for the right reasons. Leadership is something that's taken some time to come to the surface here. But we've got some core players who have really taken that on. That really started to show itself, in regard to these guys holding each other accountable, at the end of '06, and they really took it all through last year. I look at what Kevin Millwood did for us in '05, from his leadership qualities on a pitching standpoint, and I look at what Trot Nixon did for us last year, from leadership qualities on a position player standpoint, and you've got two specific examples of what it takes on both sides. Those guys knew it, and it's within 'em. But to see it makes it that much easier for them to do it themselves. Nobody can do a better job of leading than the core guys -- the guys who have been here through the good and bad. They understand what's expected of them in that clubhouse, in the dugout and on the field. They can make each other accountable and hold each other responsible for their actions. I think we'll continue to see that even more from our core guys this year, with the experience they gained last year. With all the stability you guys have, has this been a different kind of camp for you? It's been a little bit different. Every spring is different, because you're working off another year of history and experience. Having so many players back from last year makes it different. But also, there's a burning desire in there to do more. The discipline is to try not to do more. The discipline is to come here and just play and do what they're supposed to do today to help their ballclub win. That's the consistency we want, day in and day out.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.